China says Myanmar should not be "another Iraq"

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BEIJING, Nov 14 (Reuters) China does not want Myanmar to become ''another Iraq'', a senior Chinese diplomat said today, stressing his country's opposition to sanctions as a way of seeking reform in the troubled Southeast Asian nation.

Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei said Myanmar was now headed in the right direction in the aftermath of mass protests demanding democracy and then a harsh wave of arrests.

Noting recent visits to Myanmar by UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari and contacts between the imprisoned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling generals, He said now was the time for ''encouragement'', not sanctions.

''We should be patient,'' the Chinese diplomat told a news conference about a summit of Asian leaders in Singapore next week. ''We especially disapprove of sanctions. Sanctions cannot solve the problem, and will only make matters worse.'' China believed stability was paramount for Myanmar to achieve ''democracy and economic development'', the senior official said.

''We cannot permit Myanmar to fall into chaos, we cannot permit Myanmar to become another Iraq. No matter what ideas other countries have, China's stance on this is staunch.'' The diplomat's strong rhetoric -- apparently suggesting that Myanmar should not be the target of excessive foreign pressure -- came a day after Gambari said Myanmar's junta appeared to be making some concessions following their September crackdown on the protests led by Buddhist monks.

China's He said leaders from ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea were likely to discuss Myanmar at their Singapore summit, but it would not be a focus of discussions, with the agenda taken up by regional cooperation, energy and the environment.

Western powers have been much more guarded about the hints of relaxation in Myanmar, and have previously imposed economic restrictions in an bid to force the government to release Suu Kyi from house arrest and open the way to democratic reform.

Traditionally hostile to the use of economic sanctions, China shares a long border with Myanmar, and also has big stakes in developing its neighbour's raw materials and energy reserves.

REUTERS ARB RN1648

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